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Capitol protest rules: Security vs. free speech…

Click below for AP reporter John Miller's full report on how lawmakers in both the House and Senate balked today at voting on proposed new rules for use of the state Capitol grounds and surrounding areas, aimed at restricting public protests. The 39 pages of rules outline numerous restrictions, from hours to locations to types of activities and displays. “They micromanage behavior down to excruciating detail,” Barbara Pinkerton, a Boise resident and Occupy Boise supporter, told a House subcommittee. “It is extremely chilling on our free-speech amendment rights.”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, was worried that after-hours protests such as those that surrounded the Capitol in 2011 and targeted an education overhaul would fall victim to such limits. “The human chain around the Capitol, for lack of a better word, was intended to be symbolic,” Davis said. “I'm having a hard time understanding why we think it's appropriate for them to exercise their rights up to midnight on the front of the Capitol but we think it's inappropriate for them to express those speech rights on the east, west and north sides of the Capitol.” State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna said security concerns had much to do with the time limitations. She also said the 2011 protests were extraordinary.

The rules stemmed from state efforts last year to restrict the Occupy Boise protest across the street from the state Capitol, which resulted in an ongoing lawsuit in federal court.


Idaho lawmakers balk at new rules on protests
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers balked Monday at voting on disputed new rules governing protests on state-managed property around the Capitol. The rules were intended to curb future Occupy Boise-style protests but instead have led Idaho deeper into legal actions.

Under the rules proposed by the Department of Administration, protests would be restricted to certain hours and specific areas.

Department Director Teresa Luna presented the roughly 39-pages of regulations to the House and Senate State Affairs committees on Monday, comparing the rules to prohibitions the city of Boise and state governments elsewhere have adopted to make sure appropriate activities take place on public property.

However, the Idaho Senate put off a vote, and the House called for full, public hearings after groups including the American Civil Liberties Union said the push was an encroachment on free speech.

The ACLU previously sued Idaho hoping to scuttle the rules. A hearing is scheduled next month in the case.

“There is a lot of concern that civil rights are being stepped on,” said Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs.

The rules stemmed from a November 2011 demonstration when the Occupy Boise group set up tents and banners at the old Ada County Courthouse, protesting what they called income inequality, government corruption and Wall Street greed. The courthouse is on state-owned property across from the Capitol.

A law signed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter last January to kick the group off grounds was halted a month later when U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the group's protest qualified as protected free speech.

Lawmakers later passed another measure directing Luna's agency to write new rules governing Capitol-area properties. The regulations were written last April — and almost immediately challenged by Occupy Boise leaders and the ACLU in federal court as being unconstitutional.

The rules temporarily took effect and now need approval from lawmakers to become permanent.

Occupy Boise protesters removed their tents last spring to make way for lawn rehabilitation.

After hearing Monday from members of the public, Andrus and others on the House committee declined to act.

“They micromanage behavior down to excruciating detail,” Barbara Pinkerton, a Boise resident and Occupy Boise supporter, told the panel. “It is extremely chilling on our free-speech amendment rights.”

Under the proposed rules, public events such as protests could only be held outside the Capitol, Idaho Supreme Court and the Ada County Courthouse from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from spring through fall, and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. during winter. Longer protests would have to move to the main Capitol steps on Jefferson Street and would still have to end by midnight.

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, was worried that after-hours protests such as those that surrounded the Capitol in 2011 and targeted an education overhaul would fall victim to such limits.

“The human chain around the Capitol, for lack of a better word, was intended to be symbolic,” Davis said. “I'm having a hard time understanding why we think it's appropriate for them to exercise their rights up to midnight on the front of the Capitol but we think it's inappropriate for them to express those speech rights on the east, west and north sides of the Capitol.”

Luna said security concerns had much to do with the time limitations. She also said the 2011 protests were extraordinary.

“We don't see a lot of that, as far as circling the Capitol,” Luna said. “We certainly see the steps being used several times a day, every day.”

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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